In a session titled, “Education, Interrupted: Students in the Crosshairs of Crises, Policy, & Politics” at #AACRAO18, a panel of displaced students and the higher education administrators that work to support them discussed some of the growing concerns over refugees, displaced peoples, and at-risk migrants.
The students related firsthand how natural disaster, social and political conflict, and immigration issues can have a tremendous impact on the ability of young people to begin or continue their education.
Kevin Ortiz, from Lagos de Moreno of Jalisco, Mexico, served as an officer of his JROTC unit and completed 33 college credits via the Valencia College dual enrollment program, graduating high school with a 4.4 GPA. However, his lack of legal permanent residency prevented him from claiming the Bright Futures scholarship or receive in-state tuition benefits. This lack of status and funding became a barrier to the completion of his education for six years.
Claudia Sofia Baez Sola, from Caguas, Puerto Rico, was a student at the University of Puerto Rico until Hurricane Maria made landfall this past September. Claudia’s family made the difficult decision to send her, her younger brother, and grandmother to live with relatives in Florida. Claudia enrolled at Valencia College and is continuing her education thanks to the in-state tuition granted to Puerto Rican evacuees living in Florida. Almost four months later, Claudia’s parents were still in Caguas without power and with limited access to potable water, working to financially support their children.
Karen Caudillo came to the United States from Mexico at the age of four. She is a Naples High School and Miami Dade College alumni and currently a junior at the University of Central Florida thanks to the work of previous students who fought for things like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and in-state tuition benefits in the state of Florida.
What institutions can do
Each of the students stressed the importance of the work that institutions do to make college accessible for vulnerable student populations, but noted that knowledge of the available resources and options is critical. They urged attendees to think outside of the box to ensure that information about dual enrollment programs, in-state tuition, fee waivers, scholarship programs, and other such resources be more readily accessible to students, as well.
College and university administrators on the panel discussed the necessity of advocacy on behalf of the students in their communities. Dr. Kathleen Plinske, Campus President – Osceola, Lake Nona and Poinciana Campuses of Valencia College, noted that while the political conversations surrounding some of the issues can be uncomfortable, it is imperative to recognize the struggles of her students and make sure that they are welcomed on campus and have the support that they need to continue their studies. Dr. Adrienne Frame, Associate Vice President and Dean of Students at the University of Central Florida, added to that thought, encouraging attendees to listen to the needs of students at the time the need exists. Then, find the barriers to their continued education and try to find a way through them.
Advocate for vulnerable students
Advocacy on campus can make a difference in the lives of vulnerable student populations. More work can be done on the national level, though, to support these individuals and to provide relief to some of the obstacles they face daily. AACRAO strongly encourages all members to take action through the online Advocacy Center and reach out to lawmakers to urge them to approve a legislative fix for Dreamers and DACA recipients, to provide continued support for the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico following the devastation of Hurricanes Maria and Irma, and to provide relief for the individuals affected by the Trumps administration’s recent rescission of Temporary Protective Status for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Sudan, and Nicaragua. Learn more about AACRAO's work for displaced and vulnerable students.
To join AACRAO members in their support of Displaced and Vulnerable Students, visit AACRAO's Advocacy Center